How the Stanley brand found its way into hearts (and crowded cupboards)

Kathryn Orr

The Stanley cup. (No, not you, NHL trophy.) If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen people talking about their new cup on social media channels. Maybe a color lineup popped up in your For You Page. Perhaps a friend sent you a link to a video of millennials duking it out in Target over this giant, leaky water jug. Or maybe you accidentally knocked one over in the gym – and if that’s the case, I hope you had enough towels on hand for cleanup. So, what’s really going on with the Stanley cup madness?

The hype and obsession is not incredibly surprising when you think about it. After all, many Stanley consumers were born in a generation that glorified Pokémon cards and Beanie Baby collections. People have long gone wild over new consumer items that have limited releases and a lineup of color options. We have a history of craving personalization when it comes to, well, everything… but especially our methods of hydration.

First came the Nalgene: a giant, reusable, plastic water jug that also happens to easily attach to a backpack. High schoolers everywhere swarmed to their local outfitter to choose the popular-adjacent color and add just the right number of stickers to appear as though they weren’t trying too hard to fit in while simultaneously hoping to stand out.

Then came the Hydro Flask. Hey, it might weigh a metric ton, but it keeps my water ice cold all day long without sweating!

Oh, now you have more money to throw at your hydration obsession? Get a YETI. Maybe three.

A brief lull in the water wars ensued, and we all took a collective breather. But then… the reusable Starbucks cup hit, with seasonal colors, glitter, and limited releases to boot. The need to collect them resulted in lines outside of stores on “release days” akin to Black Friday. Trading groups were created on Facebook, and listings popped up on eBay for the harder-to-find colors. People started building displays for their cup collections, and I’m not talking just one shelf. Complete closets became dedicated spaces with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall showcases of all the above brands. Capitalism cheered.

So when Stanley, the vacuum-insulated tumbler brand founded in 1913, began seeing sales increase for its 40oz behemoth, it paid attention. The brand did something many are afraid to do – when it saw that people outside its assumed target audience (blue-collar workers and outdoor enthusiasts) were purchasing its product, Stanley took it as an opportunity to expand. It started releasing colors that would appeal to a broader market. Influencers took notice. Cup collectors rejoiced. And the races were on… again.

Now, it’s not hard to see why the cup is a hit. After all, it has what we love about a Hydro Flask (keeps drinks cold all day long), with a few improvements thrown in. A straw, a handle, and the clincher: the bottom of the cup is small enough to fit into regular cupholders, making it (somewhat) easier to tote around than its predecessors. But beyond the features, the brand has made moves to solidify its place in the reusable water bottle hall of fame.

When a video went viral of a woman’s car that was burnt to a crisp with the only surviving item being her Stanley cup with ice still inside, Stanley took notice. It stepped up to the plate and not only replaced her cup but bought her a brand new car. That probably cost Stanley $40,000, maybe $60,000 total, but the resulting brand loyalty and attention have rivaled that of any Super Bowl spot.

The cup itself is not without its flaws. The top is not watertight, so if your Stanley tips over, you have 40 ounces of liquid to mop up. Naturally, competitors have emerged onto the scene to join the fray (we see you, HydroJug). This minor inconvenience hasn’t kept Stanley from success. As of right now, Stanley remains on top, having wormed its way into both our hearts and our now overflowing kitchen cabinets.

Not all brands will have the opportunity to jump onto a consumer craze, but Stanley did it right: it seized the opportunity for expansion while staying true to its roots by delivering a high-quality (but now more colorful!) product. Stanley: gotta catch ‘em all.

Want to explore marketing strategies that help your brand drive real results? We’d love to chat. Reach out!